Returning home after Fukushima nuclear disaster — Al Jazeera

” Fukushima, Japan – This week, authorities lifted an evacuation order for nearly all parts of Minamisoma city, Fukushima prefecture, allowing more than 10,000 people to return to their homes for the first time since 2011’s nuclear disaster.

Tens of thousands of people across the prefecture had to abruptly leave their homes five years ago after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The lifting of the evacuation order marked the largest number of people allowed back into their hometown – yet only around an estimated 20 percent of Minamisoma’s 10,807 residents in 3,487 households decided to come back.

Since 2014, the government has been gradually lifting up evacuation orders within a 20km radius of the nuclear power plant, following the progress of some clean-up efforts.

Our team drove to Minamisoma from Tokyo along the country’s northeastern coast.

It was not difficult to spot the on-going clean-up efforts.

A great number of big contaminated waste disposal bags were piled up at temporary holding areas on fields across Fukushima prefecture.

Some holding areas were massive in size, occupying huge chunk of the fields, with a string of trucks constantly dropping off black bags.

Roads into contaminated towns were still blocked by big barricades, and checkpoints were put in place to only allow people with a special permit to enter.

As we drove past contaminated areas, the reading on our Geiger counter, which measures the level of radiation, would from time to time jump above usual levels, reaching as high as 3μSv/h – the government’s long-term reduction goal for areas within a 20km radius of the nuclear power plant stands at 0.23μSv/h.

Passing through the still largely empty, yet seemingly peaceful streets of Minamisoma, we arrived at the Odaka station in the city’s Odaka district.

Although the train service had been resumed for the first time in more than five years on the 9.4km stretch between Odaka and Haranomachi station, only a handful of passengers were seen during the day.

Trains arrived and departed, largely empty.

What caught my attention was a large screen in front of the station, showing radiation levels in real time.

The reading was 0.142μSv/h, which was higher than 0.06μSv/h in Tokyo – but still below the 0.23μSv/h government goal.

Such screens were set up across the city to assuage the public’s lingering concerns over radiation contamination.

Over the past few years, a growing number of Minamisoma residents settled somewhere else, worried over the potential long-term health effects of a return back home.

However, people who did decide to come back were trying their best to ensure that life in their hometown, albeit slowly, returned to normal.

About a three-minute walk distance from the station, we spotted around 30 young students and residents.

Preparations were under way by a number of local organisations to celebrate the opening of a community centre in a makeshift building, where residents could freely come and talk about their life back in hometown.

An old lady asked passers-by to take a seat as she served local food. Young students were hanging out with their friends, doing hula hoop and blowing bubbles.

Many of the returnees told us that despite the uncertainties and doubts, they hoped to restore a sense of community – and thus prove to friends and families who were having second thoughts about coming back that it was worth returning home.

“Although we cannot bring back Odaka to what it used to be before the disaster, as residents here, we want to bring back its spirit and the community,” Yoshiki Konno, a local resident and the head of an NGO, told Al Jazeera.

“That is the most important thing we must do.”  ”

by Musun Kim

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Fukushima reactor makers not liable: Japan court — Channel NewsAsia

” TOKYO: A Japanese court on Wednesday (Jul 13) turned down a class action lawsuit seeking damages from nuclear plant makers Toshiba, Hitachi and GE over the Fukushima meltdown disaster, the plaintiffs, one of the companies and a report said.

About 3,800 claimants in the suit, hailing from Japan and 32 other countries including the United States, Germany and South Korea, had sought largely symbolic compensation from the nuclear power plant manufacturers.

Under Japanese liability law, nuclear plant providers are usually exempt from damage claims in the event of an accident, leaving operators to face legal action.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, had argued that that violated constitutional protections on the pursuit of happy, wholesome and cultured livelihoods.

But the Tokyo District Court ruled that the law “is not unconstitutional”, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

“We knew it was difficult to win under the current legal system in Japan, but it’s clearly wrong that nuclear (plant) manufacturers don’t have to bear any responsibility for an accident,” Masao Imaizumi, 73, one of plaintiffs, told AFP.

“If they are spared responsibility, it could lead to disregard for product quality,” he said, adding that the plaintiffs will appeal.

Toshiba welcomed the decision. “The company recognises the verdict as an appropriate ruling handed out by the court,” it said in a statement.

Hitachi and GE’s Japan office could not be reached for comment. Japan’s Jiji Press also reported that the suit was rejected.

The suit – which sought just ¥100 (96 US cents) per claimant – was the first to be brought against nuclear power-plant suppliers over the accident, Akihiro Shima, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said previously.

The suit was first filed in January 2014 with just over 1,000 claimants, but more joined which saw the number nearly quadruple.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the companies failed to make necessary safety updates to the Fukushima reactors, swamped on Mar 11, 2011 by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake-sparked tsunami that lead to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power is already facing massive lawsuits and compensation costs. ”

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Koizumi appeals for help for U.S. vets who assisted in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun; Stars and Stripes

The Asahi Shimbun:

” Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sheds tears at a news conference in Carlsbad, Calif., on May 17, after visiting U.S. veterans who are plantiffs in a suit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in connection with the 2011 nuclear accident. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is calling for donations to the relief fund he founded for U.S. veterans who claim their health problems resulted from radioactive fallout after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Speaking at a news conference on July 5 alongside another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, Koizumi said of the U.S. veterans: “They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan. It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

More than 400 veterans who were part of the Operation Tomodachi mission to provide humanitarian relief after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami have filed a mass lawsuit in California against Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. They are seeking compensation and an explanation for their health problems.

However, in a 2014 report released by the U.S. Defense Department, no link was established between radiation exposure and their ill health. The reason cited was that only a low level of radiation exposure occurred.

Koizumi, 74, visited some of the plaintiffs in the United States in mid-May. Although Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power when he was prime minister between 2001 and 2006, he became an outspoken opponent after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant. ”

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Stars and Stripes:

” YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A former Japanese prime minister is calling on his countrymen to donate to a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan,” Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo alongside fellow former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, according to Asahi Shimbun. “It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

Hundreds of veterans, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure after participating in Operation Tomodachi relief efforts, have filed suit against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. A massive earthquake caused a tsunami that swamped a large stretch of northeastern Japan and inundated the power plant. Experts are still dealing with continuing leaks from the reactors.

The suit asserts that TEPCO lied, coaxing the Navy closer to the plant even though it knew the situation was dire. General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi were later added as defendants for allegations of faulty parts for the reactors.

Illnesses listed in the lawsuit, which is making its way through the courts, include genetic immune system diseases, headaches, difficulty concentrating, thyroid problems, bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness in sides of the body accompanied by the shrinking of muscle mass, memory loss, leukemia, testicular cancer, problems with vision, high-pitch ringing in the ears and anxiety.

People can donate to the fund, called the Operation Tomodachi Victims Foundation, at Japanese credit union Jonan Shinyo Kinko, Eigyobu honten branch, account No. 844688.

Donations, accepted through March 31, 2017, will be transferred to a U.S. bank and used, under the management of a judge, to support the veterans, according to a news release from the credit union. “

by Aaron Kidd, contributions from Hana Kusumoto

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Reuse of radioactive soil approved despite 170-year safety criteria estimate — The Mainichi

” An Environment Ministry decision to allow reuse of contaminated soil emanating from the Fukushima nuclear disaster under road pavements came despite an estimate that it will take 170 years before the soil’s radiation levels reach safety criteria, it has been learned.

According to the revelation, an Environment Ministry panel approved the recycling of tainted soil generated from Fukushima decontamination work despite an estimate presented during a closed meeting of a working group that it will require 170 years for radioactivity concentrations in the contaminated soil to drop to legal safety standards, shelving a decision over whether such soil should be put under long-term management.

The ministry is planning to allow reuse of the tainted soil in mounds beneath road pavements, asserting that radiation will be shielded by concrete covering such mounds. However, an estimate presented at the closed meeting of the working group on the radiation impact safety assessment states that such mounds would be durable for just 70 years, suggesting that the soil would need to be managed for another 100 years after its road use ends.

“There’s no way they can manage the soil for a total of 170 years without isolating it,” said an angry expert.

The working group is a subgroup of an Environment Ministry panel called “the strategic panel for technical development of volume reduction and reuse of removed soil in temporary storage,” and the two groups share some of their members. According to the working group’s in-house documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, the closed meetings were held six times between January and May, with the attendance of over 20 people including eight group members and officials from the Environment Ministry and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

Under the Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors, the safety standards for recycling metals and other materials generated from the decommissioning of nuclear reactors are set at up to 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. Meanwhile, the special measures law concerning decontamination of radioactive materials, which was enacted after the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant crisis, classifies materials whose radiation levels top 8,000 becquerels per kilogram as designated waste, and stipulates that waste whose radiation levels are 8,000 becquerels or lower can be put to ordinary disposal.

According to working group chairman and Hokkaido University professor Tsutomu Sato, the group served as a forum to “prepare itself for theoretical argument” over setting the upper radiation dose limit for reusing contaminated soil at 8,000 becquerels.

The Environment Ministry set forth the plan to reuse contaminated soil in public works such as in mounds beneath road pavements and in coastal levees on the grounds that the “radiation levels can be contained to levels on par with clearance levels” by covering tainted soil with concrete and other materials. During the second meeting of the working group on Jan. 27, a member pointed out, “The problem is what to do with tainted soil after use (in roads and other structures). If such soil is allowed to be dug over freely, it would be difficult to convince the upper limit of radiation levels (for soil reuse).”

A JAEA official presented the aforementioned estimate, saying, “For example, it will take 170 years for radiation levels to reduce to 100 becquerels if tainted soil of 5,000 becquerels is put to reuse. Because the durable life of soil mounds is set at 70 years, a total of 170 years will be required to manage that soil — both when the soil is being used in mounds and after that.”

Discussions on the soil management period never went any further, and the strategic panel overseeing the working group on June 7 approved recycling such contaminated soil on condition that the maximum radiation levels of such soil be 8,000 becquerels and that the levels should be no more than 6,000 becquerels if the soil is covered with concrete and no more than 5,000 becquerels if the soil is planted with trees.

The Environment Ministry is set to begin a demonstration experiment possibly later this year, in which radiation levels will be measured in mounds using soil with different radioactivity concentrations at temporary storage sites in Fukushima Prefecture.

Working group chairman Sato, who also serves as a member of the strategic panel, admitted the existence of the 170-year estimate, but said, “We have discussed the matter but haven’t decided anything. We just presented our initial idea for reuse (of tainted soil) this time, and we will examine the feasibility of the plan later.”

Hiroshi Ono, who headed the Environment Ministry’s decontamination and interim storage planning team, said, “We have yet to decide what to do (with the tainted soil) in the end (after reuse), but the Environment Ministry will take responsibility for that.”

Another working group set up under the strategic panel, whose members primarily comprise those from the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, has presented a view, stating, “It will be in no way easy to secure the traceability (of recycled tainted soil).” “

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